The Chick and the Dead A Pepper Martin Mystery
By Casey Daniels
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. Copyright © 2007 Casey Daniels
All right reserved. ISBN: 9780060821470
It all started with Gus Scarpetti.
More specifically, it all started when I was leading a tour at the cemetery where I work and smacked my head on the marble step of the mausoleum where Gus Scarpetti's mortal remains were resting, but not in peace.
High heels. Uneven ground. Gravity.
Not a good combination.
If I didn't know it when I woke up in the emergency room with doctors peering at me and asking me if I knew my name and what day of the week it was, I sure did after that. Because after that . . .
Well, after that, I started seeing dead people.
Did I say people? Let me correct myself. After that, I started seeing a dead person. Singular. As in one gone-but-not-forgotten Mafia don—the aforementioned Gus Scarpetti.
Luckily, the whole ghostly experience didn't last more than a few weeks. I did some investigating and, thanks to me, Gus's unfinished business here on earth got finished. After thirty years of his restless spirit looking for someone who could help, his murder had been solved. By me. Gus had finally gone to the Great Beyond. Or the white light. Or wherever it was that ghosts went after they served out their time here.
And like any logicalperson, I figured that was—as they say—that.
Except apparently it wasn't.
Because just minutes after I said my final goodbyes to Gus, I walked into my office at Garden View Cemetery and came face-to-face with a blond wearing a cardigan sweater and a poodle skirt.Saddle shoes or no saddle shoes, I knew we were not talking twenty-first century.
The awareness stung like a shot of Botox, and for a couple of long seconds, all I could do was stand there and listen to my blood rush in my ears and my heart slam against my ribs.
That, and stare.
At the woman perched on the edge of my desk, her legs crossed and one foot—and the saddle shoe on it—swinging. At her bobbed, wavy hair. And the pink chiffon scarf tied around her neck. At her pink cardigan, the one with the loopy D written in rhinestones over her heart.
She was a ghost. I knew it as sure as I knew my own name was Pepper Martin, and realizing it made me feel, well . . . I'll leave out the part about being pissed, exasperated, and leery, and just settle with saying I was not a happy camper.
I backed away, but my office isn't very big and there wasn't far to go. The doorknob poked my butt.
"No. No. No. No way can I see you." I held one hand out in front of me, emphasizing my point. "No way can you be here. You're not Gus."
She snapped her gum and blew a big, pink bubble. "Don't have a cow! Of course I'm not Gus. Do I look like Gus?" The woman sat up and pulled back her shoulders, the better to emphasize a bustline that was nearly as ample as mine. "No way Gus has a chassis this classy," she said. "Gus is the one who sent me."
"But Gus is dead." Okay, it was an understatement, but I thought I should mention it, just in case she didn't know. I looked toward the far wall. If I had a window—which I didn't—I would have been able to see across Garden View—which I couldn't—toward the mausoleum that was as flamboyant as Gus was himself. "I solved Gus's murder. This is the rest-in-peace part. For him and for me. No more ghosts."
"You think?" She grinned. "I've got news for you. That's not how it works."
I didn't have to ask, I knew the it in question was my ability to see and talk to the dead. As far as I knew—at least until right then and there—that dead meant Gus and only Gus.
Which meant that with Gus gone, I was officially out of the private-investigation-for-the- dearly-departed business.
Or at least I should have been.
Struggling to make some sense of it all, I ran a hand through my carrot-colored hair. "No way this is happening," I told the woman. "I hit my head on Gus's mausoleum. Not on yours. I don't even know who you are. I shouldn't be able to see you."
"But you can, right?" Her smile was perky. Have I mentioned that I hate perky? She hopped off my desk. "Thanks to that accident of yours, you have what's officially known as the Gift."
"Oh no!" I sidled along the wall until I was standing on the opposite side of the desk from where the woman stood. "Whatever this Gift thing is, I don't want it. Take it back. No Gift. Not for me. I just want my life back. My regular, old life."
"Really?" She fluffed her skirt and adjusted the knot on the gauzy scarf around her neck. "That's not what Gus says."
"In case you haven't noticed, Gus is a mobster. One of the bad guys. That means he's not exactly the most honest person in the world. Whatever world he happens to be in. And besides, when did you have time to talk to him?" I thought back to what had just happened out near Gus's mausoleum. One second he was there, the next . . . poof! "He just went to the big spaghetti dinner in the sky."
She shrugged like it was no big deal. "Time doesn't work the same here as it does there. Gus, he told me all about you. He said he was pretty sure you'd moan and groan about how much you hated working for him but that deep down, you're really grateful that he showed up. After all, before he did, I hear your life was dullsville."
"He told you that?" So, Gus was over on the Other Side talking behind my back. You think he'd give me a little more credit. After all, I was the only one . . . Continues...
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